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Sunday, September 06, 2020

If math education is threatened, so is our technological society, by Paddington

As the late Physicist Richard Feynman pointed out, Mathematics is the language necessary to understand the Universe. That is, to do Science. He lamented that so few people seemed able to learn the material.

In the US (and evidence suggests that this is true in most countries), only about 15% of 12th grade students have mastered Algebra I enough to take the first college-level Math course, often called College Algebra. This has been the case since I began teaching.

With Herculean efforts and massive amounts of money spent on college-level remediation for the 75% who arrive at higher education below that level, we have achieved about the same success rates as drug addition therapy, or poverty relief.

In other words, it appears that we need that 15%+ of students for all of the jobs which require at least some higher-level Mathematics (or the associated analytical skills), including: Actuaries, Chemists, Computer Engineers, Computer Scientists, Computer Technicians, Dentists, Doctors, Electricians, Engineers of all types, Financial analysts, Geologists, Mathematicians, Neuro-Scientists (the newest tool for them is systems of partial differential equations), Optometrists, Physicists, Pilots, Statisticians and so much more, and the teachers and professors of these subjects.

And how do many of our leaders respond? By claiming that we can replace all of these things by Artificial Intelligence, and by defunding the STEM areas at universities because they "aren't popular enough".

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